Life of George Washington

The distant firing from the mainland had reached the British at Boston. The
troops which, in the morning, had marched through Roxbury, to the tune of
Yankee Doodle, might have been seen at sunset, hounded along the old
Cambridge road to Charlestown Neck, by mere armed yeomanry. Gage was
astounded at the catastrophe. It was but a short time previous that one of
his officers, in writing to friends in England, scoffed at the idea of the
Americans taking up arms. “Whenever it comes to blows,” said he, “he that
can run the fastest, will think himself well off, believe me. Any two
regiments here ought to be decimated, if they did not beat in the field the
whole force of the Massachusetts province.” How frequently, throughout this
Revolution, had the English to pay the penalty of thus undervaluing the
spirit they were provoking!

In this memorable affair, the British loss was seventy-three killed, one
hundred and seventy-four wounded, and twenty-six missing. Among the slain
were eighteen officers. The loss of the Americans was forty-nine killed,
thirty-nine wounded, and five missing. This was the first blood shed in the
revolutionary struggle; a mere drop in amount, but a deluge in its
effects,–rending the colonies for ever from the mother country.

The cry of blood from the field of Lexington, went through the land. None
felt the appeal more than the old soldiers of the French war. It roused
John Stark, of New Hampshire–a trapper and hunter in his youth, a veteran
in Indian warfare, a campaigner under Abercrombie and Amherst, now the
military oracle of a rustic neighborhood. Within ten minutes after
receiving the alarm, he was spurring towards the sea-coast, and on the way
stirring up the volunteers of the Massachusetts borders, to assemble
forthwith at Bedford, in the vicinity of Boston.

Equally alert was his old comrade in frontier exploits, Colonel Israel
Putnam. A man on horseback, with a drum, passed through his neighborhood in
Connecticut, proclaiming British violence at Lexington. Putnam was in the
field ploughing, assisted by his son. In an instant the team was unyoked;
the plough left in the furrow; the lad sent home to give word of his
father’s departure; and Putnam, on horseback, in his working garb, urging
with all speed to the camp. Such was the spirit aroused throughout the
country. The sturdy yeomanry, from all parts, were hastening toward Boston
with such weapons as were at hand; and happy was he who could command a
rusty fowling-piece and a powder-horn.

The news reached Virginia at a critical moment. Lord Dunmore, obeying a
general order issued by the ministry to all the provincial governors, had
seized upon the military munitions of the province. Here was a similar
measure to that of Gage. The cry went forth that the subjugation of the
colonies was to be attempted. All Virginia was in combustion. The standard
of liberty was reared in every county; there was a general cry to arms.
Washington was looked to, from various quarters, to take command. His old
comrade in arms, Hugh Mercer, was about marching down to Williamsburg at
the head of a body of resolute men, seven hundred strong, entitled “The
friends of constitutional liberty and America,” whom he had organized and
drilled in Fredericksburg, and nothing but a timely concession of Lord
Dunmore, with respect to some powder which he had seized, prevented his
being beset in his palace.

Before Hugh Mercer and the Friends of Liberty disbanded themselves, they
exchanged a mutual pledge to reassemble at a moment’s warning, whenever
called on to defend the liberty and rights of this or any other sister

Washington was at Mount Vernon, preparing to set out for Philadelphia as a
delegate to the second Congress, when he received tidings of the affair at
Lexington. Bryan Fairfax and Major Horatio Gates were his guests at the
time. They all regarded the event as decisive in its consequences; but they
regarded it with different feelings. The worthy and gentle-spirited Fairfax
deplored it deeply. He foresaw that it must break up all his pleasant
relations in life; arraying his dearest friends against the government to
which, notwithstanding the errors of its policy, he was loyally attached
and resolved to adhere.

Gates, on the contrary, viewed it with the eye of a soldier and a
place-hunter–hitherto disappointed in both capacities. This event promised
to open a new avenue to importance and command, and he determined to enter
upon it.

Washington’s feelings were of a mingled nature. They may be gathered from a
letter to his friend and neighbor, George William Fairfax, then in England,
in which he lays the blame of this “deplorable affair” on the ministry and
their military agents; and concludes with the following words, in which the
yearnings of the patriot give affecting solemnity to the implied resolve of
the soldier: “Unhappy it is to reflect that a brother’s sword has been
sheathed in a brother’s breast; and that the once happy and peaceful plains
of America, are to be either drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves.
Sad alternative! _But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?_”



At the eastward, the march of the Revolution went on with accelerated
speed. Thirty thousand men had been deemed necessary for the defence of the
country. The provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved to raise
thirteen thousand six hundred, as its quota. Circular letters, also, were
issued by the committee of safety, urging the towns to enlist troops with
all speed, and calling for military aid from the other New England

Their appeals were promptly answered. Bodies of militia, and parties of
volunteers from New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, hastened to
join the minute men of Massachusetts in forming a camp in the neighborhood
of Boston. With the troops of Connecticut, came Israel Putnam; having
recently raised a regiment in that province, and received from its Assembly
the commission of brigadier-general. Some of his old comrades in French and
Indian warfare, had hastened to join his standard. Such were two of his
captains, Durkee and Knowlton. The latter, who was his especial favorite,
had fought by his side when a mere boy.

The command of the camp was given to General Artemas Ward, already
mentioned. He was a native of Shrewsbury, in Massachusetts, and a veteran
of the seven years’ war–having served as lieutenant-colonel under
Abercrombie. He had, likewise, been a member of the legislative bodies, and
had recently been made, by the provincial Congress of Massachusetts,
commander-in-chief of its forces.

As affairs were now drawing to a crisis, and war was considered inevitable,
some bold spirits in Connecticut conceived a project for the outset. This
was the surprisal of the old forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, already
famous in the French war. Their situation on Lake Champlain gave them the
command of the main route to Canada; so that the possession of them would
be all-important in case of hostilities. They were feebly garrisoned and
negligently guarded, and abundantly furnished with artillery and military
stores, so much needed by the patriot army.

This scheme was set on foot in the purlieus, as it were, of the provincial
Legislature of Connecticut, then in session. It was not openly sanctioned
by that body, but secretly favored, and money lent from the treasury to
those engaged in it. A committee was appointed, also, to accompany them to
the frontier, aid them in raising troops, and exercise over them, a degree
of superintendence and control.

Sixteen men were thus enlisted in Connecticut, a greater number in
Massachusetts, but the greatest accession of force, was from what was
called the “New Hampshire Grants.” This was a region having the Connecticut
River on one side, and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River on the
other–being, in fact, the country forming the present State of Vermont. It
had long been a disputed territory, claimed by New York and New Hampshire.
George II. had decided in favor of New York; but the Governor of New
Hampshire had made grants of between one and two hundred townships in it,
whence it had acquired the name of the New Hampshire Grants. The settlers
on those grants resisted the attempts of New York to eject them, and formed
themselves into an association, called “The Green Mountain Boys.” Resolute,
strong-handed fellows they were, with Ethan Allen at their head, a native
of Connecticut, but brought up among the Green Mountains. He and his
lieutenants, Seth Warner and Remember Baker, were outlawed by the
Legislature of New York, and rewards offered for their apprehension. They
and their associates armed themselves, set New York at defiance, and swore
they would be the death of any one who should attempt their arrest.

Thus Ethan Allen was becoming a kind of Robin Hood among the mountains,
when the present crisis changed the relative position of things as if by
magic. Boundary feuds were forgotten amid the great questions of colonial
rights. Ethan Allen at once stepped forward, a patriot, and volunteered
with his Green Mountain Boys to serve in the popular cause. He was well
fitted for the enterprise in question, by his experience as a frontier
champion, his robustness of mind and body, and his fearless spirit. He had
a kind of rough eloquence, also, that was very effective with his
followers. “His style,” says one, who knew him personally, “was a singular
compound of local barbarisms, scriptural phrases, and oriental wildness;
and though unclassic, and sometimes ungrammatical, was highly animated and
forcible.” Washington, in one of his letters, says there was “an original
something in him which commanded admiration.”

Thus reinforced, the party, now two hundred and seventy strong, pushed
forward to Castleton, a place within a few miles of the head of Lake
Champlain. Here a council of war was held on the 2d of May. Ethan Allen was
placed at the head of the expedition, with James Easton and Seth Warner as
second and third in command. Detachments were sent off to Skenesborough
(now Whitehall), and another place on the lake, with orders to seize all
the boats they could find and bring them to Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga,
whither Allen prepared to proceed with the main body.

At this juncture, another adventurous spirit arrived at Castleton. This was
BENEDICT ARNOLD, since so sadly renowned. He, too, had conceived the
project of surprising Ticonderoga and Crown Point; or, perhaps, had caught
the idea from its first agitators in Connecticut,–in the militia of which
province he held a captain’s commission. He had proposed the scheme to the
Massachusetts committee of safety. It had met with their approbation. They
had given him a colonel’s commission, authorized him to raise a force in
Western Massachusetts, not exceeding four hundred men, and furnished him
with money and means. Arnold had enlisted but a few officers and men when
he heard of the expedition from Connecticut being on the march. He
instantly hurried on with one attendant to overtake it, leaving his few
recruits to follow, as best they could: in this way he reached Castleton
just after the council of war.

Producing the colonel’s commission received from the Massachusetts
committee of safety, he now aspired to the supreme command. His claims were
disregarded by the Green Mountain Boys; they would follow no leader but
Ethan Allen. As they formed the majority of the party, Arnold was fain to
acquiesce, and serve as a volunteer, with the rank, but not the command of

The party arrived at Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, on the night of the
9th of May. The detachment sent in quest of boats had failed to arrive.
There were a few boats at hand, with which the transportation was
commenced. It was slow work; the night wore away; day was about to break,
and but eighty-three men, with Allen and Arnold, had crossed. Should they
wait for the residue, day would dawn, the garrison wake, and their
enterprise might fail. Allen drew up his men, addressed them in his own
emphatic style, and announced his intention to make a dash at the fort
without waiting for more force. “It is a desperate attempt,” said he, “and
I ask no man to go against his will. I will take the lead, and be the first
to advance. You that are willing to follow, poise your firelocks.” Not a
firelock but was poised.

They mounted the hill briskly, but in silence, guided by a boy from the
neighborhood. The day dawned as Allen arrived at a sally port. A sentry
pulled trigger on him, but his piece missed fire. He retreated through a
covered way. Allen and his men followed. Another sentry thrust at Easton
with his bayonet, but was struck down by Allen, and begged for quarter. It
was granted on condition of his leading the way instantly to the quarters
of the commandant, Captain Delaplace, who was yet in bed. Being arrived
there, Allen thundered at the door, and demanded a surrender of the fort.
By this time his followers had formed into two lines on the parade-ground,
and given three hearty cheers. The commandant appeared at his door
half-dressed, “the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his
shoulder.” He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. “By whose
authority do you act?” exclaimed he. “In the name of the great Jehovah, and
the Continental Congress!” replied Allen, with a flourish of his sword, and
an oath which we do not care to subjoin.

There was no disputing the point. The garrison, like the commander, had
been startled from sleep, and made prisoners as they rushed forth in their
confusion. A surrender accordingly took place. The captain, and forty-eight
men, which composed his garrison, were sent prisoners to Hartford, in
Connecticut. A great supply of military and naval stores, so important in
the present crisis, was found in the fortress.

Colonel Seth Warner, who had brought over the residue of the party from
Shoreham, was now sent with a detachment against Crown Point, which
surrendered on the 12th of May, without firing a gun; the whole garrison
being a sergeant and twelve men. Here were taken upward of a hundred

Arnold now insisted vehemently on his right to command Ticonderoga; being,
as he said, the only officer invested with legal authority. His claims had
again to yield to the superior popularity of Ethan Allen, to whom the
Connecticut committee, which had accompanied the enterprise, gave an
instrument in writing, investing him with the command of the fortress, and
its dependencies, until he should receive the orders of the Connecticut
Assembly, or the Continental Congress. Arnold, while forced to acquiesce,
sent a protest, and a statement of his grievances to the Massachusetts
Legislature. In the mean time, his chagrin was appeased by a new project.
The detachment originally sent to seize upon boats at Skenesborough,
arrived with a schooner, and several bateaux. It was immediately concerted
between Allen and Arnold to cruise in them down the lake, and surprise St.
John’s, on the Sorel River, the frontier post of Canada. The schooner was
accordingly armed with cannon from the fort. Arnold, who had been a seaman
in his youth, took the command of her, while Allen and his Green Mountain
Boys embarked in the bateaux.

Arnold outsailed the other craft, and arriving at St. John’s, surprised and
made prisoners of a sergeant and twelve men; captured a king’s sloop of
seventy tons, with two brass six-pounders and seven men; took four bateaux,
destroyed several others, and then, learning that troops were on the way
from Montreal and Chamblee, spread all his sails to a favoring breeze, and
swept up the lake with his prizes and prisoners, and some valuable stores,
which he had secured.

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